Comparing Presidents: The Net Marriage Rate

This post follows another post looking at the net marriage rate by looking at the net marriage rate by Presidency, as well as how it correlates with income. All data used in this post comes from the Census Bureau.

How does the net marriage rate (i.e., marriage rate less divorce rate) look over time?

It should be noted… 1998 – 2004 excludes data for divorce rates (and population) for several states.

Before we go on to the summary… can anyone spot the effect Welfare Reform Act on the graph?

Moving right along, a summary. (And because there is always someone telling me that things in Clinton’s term changed after the Republicans took power, I have that broken out too. And the pre- and post- Welfare Reform Act is also broken out.)

And before I get accused of only considering Presidents (and the Welfare Reform Act and missing data), here’s how annual percent changes in the net marriage rate (and its components, the marriage rate and the divorce rate) correlate with annual percent changes in real median income


Not much of a correlation between changes in income and changes in the marriage rate. People decide to get married for love. There does seem to be a negative correlation between changes in income and changes in the divorce rate, though. Not surprising… I’ve heard it said the number one cause of divorce in the US is money trouble. Given the lack of correlation between marriage and income, and the negative correlation between divorce and income, we find that a big way to get people married and keep them married is to increase their income.

Now a comment… The net marriage rate drops like a log from 1996 to 2000. And yet the rate of real median income increases were pretty quick… every year from 1996 to 2000 saw positive growth, well over the average (and median) for the post-WW2 era. (In fact, in 1997 and 1998, the growth rate in real median income was ludicrously high: 4.25% and 4.75%, respectively.) And the net marriage rate is positively correlated with income. So how come the marriage rate, which was unchanged from 1992 to 1996 dropped like a log despite increases in income? What changed?

Well, it seems that in the beginning of the Clinton term, some positive things started happening… a zero percent change (which occurred from 1996 to 2000) is damn good performance in this dismal looking sample. Some may have been demographic changes (an older population?), and some may have been social policies enacted by Clinton (offhand I don’t know what). But clearly it was different from the two preceding administrations. And then Welfare Reform hit. (And some other measures by the increasingly confident Republican Congress.) I suspect the Welfare Reform Act created some pretty perverse incentives for the very poor, and and rapidly rising incomes made it possible for many people in the working poor and middle class to walk away from what they considered to be bad marriages.

After Clinton’s term, the negative trend continued. The interesting thing… it wasn’t as shallow as one might expect despite the drop in real incomes… So what happened? Speculation…. Some of the negative effects of the Welfare Act die over time. After a few years on welfare, one can’t collect anything ever again regardless of how one plays the system. So some of the perverse effects may no longer matter? Perhaps someone who knows something might explain the data in comments.

Regardless… as is true of just about every data set we have looked at so far (and regular readers no doubt have lost count), the net marriage rate does better under Dem Presidents on average, than Rep Presidents. Whether this says the Dems are the Party of Marriage I don’t know, but it does say the Reps definitely aren’t the party that delivers in this department either.

I’ll have a post sometime soon looking at how all this affects America’s children.